Wind Power Won\’t Work

I really would like someone who supports wind power to tell me why this paper (explained well here) is wrong.

From what I can see it just ain\’t gonna work. At great cost.

17 thoughts on “Wind Power Won\’t Work”

  1. The answer is that wind power on another other than a Noddy scale will be an expensive disaster.

    It won’t generate enough power. It will have to be backed up by fossil-fuel based conventional generation (unless we accept massive powercuts to be the norm).

    When the wind is too strong (for example during winter gales) then the windmills have to be shut down or the gearboxes will catch fire from excessive heating and/or the turbine blades will shatter like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nSB1SdVHqQ

    The economics are clear. Any attempt to produce substantial electricity from wind power will be hideously expensive and do absolutely nothing for the environment other than chop migrating birds into pieces.

  2. MikeinAppalachia

    25-30 years ago, same conditions of variable output and necessary back-up were being discussed about run-of-river hydro schemes with the same conclusion. If one wants to significantly limit the use of carbon-based fuels, one has to pay a lot extra and/or get used to very variable grid output.

  3. Surely nobody ever thought that wind power alone would be the answer?

    Once people start thinking creatively about the base-load / variability problem, I expect solutions will emerge. For example, what about having whichever form of power generation you currently favour – say nuclear – sat there generating electricity permanently, and just have that electricity switch between powering something that is easier to power up and power down (say, the manufacture of hydrogen) and direct grid supply?

    For somebody that usually emphasizes the power of markets / innovators to find solutions to problems, I can’t figure out your attitude to wind power, unless it’s just become symbolic to you – the kind of people you dislike, like it, so you will dislike it.

    Tim adds: Well, current UK government policy seems to be that wind, on its own, without a clever back up scheme, is indeed the solution. And while I am indeed very much a backer of markets and innovation I tend to think that physics comes first.

  4. I will defer to your knowledge of government policy, but there is no law of physics that says we can’t think of ways to cope the the unpredictability and variability of wind power generation.

  5. You might be interested in this:

    http://blogs.cgdev.org/globaldevelopment/2008/07/india_sees_some_of_the_light_o_1.php

    Why doesn’t the government lease land from, say, Morocco, build solar fields, use those nifty new low loss transmission cables to sell the electricity to Spain, who then sell electricity to France, who the sell electricity to us?

    Tim adds: I have a feeling that something like that will be the solution. Solar is going through a technological step change at the moment, prices are crashing year on year.

    Of course, you’ll still have people complaining because we won’t be self-sufficient in energy….don’t forget, this climate change stuff covers a multitude of motivations.

  6. Great news for Africa, if it does start leasing sun drenched but otherwise pretty useless land to the rest of the world; never mind the income transfer, it will mean reliable power for Africa too, as a byproduct.

    Then we can cover the cost of Africa with solar powered desalination plants, and turn Africa into a lush water-rich paradise! Goddamn it, why hasn’t somebody put me in charge of the world yet?

  7. Solar fields in Africa: If these are going to provide a significant percentage of our energy needs (as opposed to a small scale demonstration plant), don’t forget to budget for the military bases to guard what will be a vital piece of our infrastructure. Obviously we will have to meddle in the local governments, to make sure they stay friendly to us. Plus ca change, …

  8. I don’t think he is arguing that windpower won’t work, simply that there will be lots of problems as to how the variation in supply will be managed. As a windpower advocate, I think he’s dead right on this. But lots of problems doesn’t mean impossible. I am also puzzled as to what you think the alternative might be? In the long run, we have no choice but to build a renewable power infrastructure because fossil fuels are running out. As technical challenges go, I think it’s readily achievable.

  9. Nuclear!

    The only downside is that it’s a bureacratized industry, and 99% of its issues are the political ones of planning and safety. If we had a government that could do it properly like France it would be the solution.

  10. Nuclear!

    The only downside is that it’s a bureacratized industry

    There is another downside. I was speaking to an energy consultant yesterday, who said that nobody knows what the new nuclear plants will cost to build. Current estimates of those in the know make them the most expensive option.

    As for wind power variability, there are lots of potential solutions and lots of smart people working on them. Like Tim, I find the idea of a History Graduate Prime Minister making such big decisions on technology rather scary, even though I am sure that wind power has a very big future.

  11. Another consideration I have heard/ read about nuclear is that price per MW is dependent on stable uranium prices. We import a lot of our uranium… from Australia and Russia, I believe. Its something worth looking at when factoring the longer-term benefit of a nuclear-only plan.

    What does Uranium cost? Where does it come from? How stable is that price over the next 50-200 years?

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